A New Dawn

Interior_511a811e751f7-lightboxIn my last journal I had made up my mind that while the BMW 135i DCT was incredibly fast, it was pretty uninvolving and aloof. So, I asked you all “What’s fun on both road and track, won’t cost me the earth to run, has a great sounding engine, returns decent combined fuel economy (ideally 30+), is well built, reliable and has ipod connectivity and a decent stereo? Oh, and it doesn’t have to be a 4-seater….”

After sifting through the pile of responses it transpired that the top suggestions were either the Renault Megane 265 Trophy, or, with tongue-in-cheek, a Panda 4×4!

I did seriously consider the Megane, but I’m afraid I couldn’t shake the aura of French rattle-boxes/unreliability that surrounds the marque. I like my interiors to be well screwed together, and although Renault’s have got better in recent years, the interior of the Megane still looks a few grades cheaper than anything from Germany. It’s also “wrong-wheel drive”, and I do enjoy a regular dose of throttle induced oversteer.

So, I’ve ended up with a bit of a gem for my £22k budget – a Gen 2, 2.9 Boxster. My car is a 2009 car, and has Xenon’s, Metallic Black paint, Sports Seats, Sport Chrono, Heated Seats, Sport Design Steering Wheel, Bose Stereo, ipod connection, Sports Tailpipe, and 19” wheels. It satisfies all my criteria, except for one – the ability to regularly return 30+ mpg on the combined cycle. Currently I’m averaging 26mpg, so it’s hardly catastrophically bad.

After 8 months – I am still really, really pleased with the car. In fact, when I’ve had the pleasure of just driving it for pure pleasure, rather than going anywhere specific , it has been, to quote Doctor Evil, “Frickin’ Awesome”!

Naturally, it’s at its best with the roof down. This exposes you as the driver to a wealth of sights and sounds that are denied to you if you go for the fixed roof Cayman. I’ve taken the car for many a blast in and around the Chilterns and I don’t think I’ll ever tire of looking up and seeing a glider/light aircraft flying 200ft overhead, or the sound of the exhaust coming back to me off the scenery or tunnel walls.

One thing I had been worried about pre-purchase was the supposed “clinical” handling of the Boxster. I like a bit of edginess about my cars, not something safe and benign. Happily, the Boxster has such a wide handling repertoire; it can serve up whatever you want as a driver, whenever you want it. If you want to keep everything fast and neat, leave PSM (Porsche Stability Management) on. If you want to enjoy a little bit of slip, but retain an electronic safety net, press “Sport” mode. And if you want to let it all hang out, turn PSM off completely.

You do have to be on your toes though if you fully disable the electronics, as the Boxster will snap into oversteer very rapidly if you use throttle and weight transfer to induce a slide. Thankfully the steering allows quick correction, but you also have to be quick to wind the opposite lock off promptly in order to avoid a tank slapper the other way. In short, unless you’re completely on your mettle, the Boxster can bite. Mid-engined is definitely the best chassis set-up best for agility and turn-in response, but with the engine behind you, it can still act like a ruddy great pendulum.

In terms of the chassis and suspension, I’m glad to report that everything the press has written about the car is true. It deals with bumps and imperfections in the road ruthlessly. Sure, the set-up is firm, and you feel the bumps through both the wheel (which shimmies deliciously) and the seat of your pants, but the damping is so good that you never feel genuinely unsettled by the bumps. The car just deals with them. The steering is direct and accurate, telegraphing grip and slip to the palms of your hands, and the car corners hard and flat like a slot car.

The engine is an absolute peach too. At low revs, it can feel a little flat, but get it above 4000 rpm and it yowls it’s hollow song all the way to the redline with enthusiasm and unmistakable ‘Porsche-ness’. No other car sounds like a Porsche and once you’ve experienced its urgent war cry you’ll be hooked.

All these elements work harmoniously together and sometimes you’re left marveling at the complete control you have over the car’s attitude, the pace of the car, and the feeling of being “at the centre of things” that the fantastic driving position and engine layout give you.

In terms of downsides, well, I have to report that the brakes are not as good as the media would have you believe. Pedal feel is not as positive as I would like and you have to really stand on them to get decent retardation. I guess some would call this “progressive”, but for me, I’d like more bite near the top of the pedal.

The stereo also loses the Boxster some points, for its repeated memory failures! It seems to randomly lose all my radio presets, meaning I have to re-tune my favourite stations every few weeks. I also find it incredible that Porsche still charge extra for Bluetooth connectivity and a USB connection – even on the new 981 Boxster! I have to make do with an AUX-in connection for my ipod, which isn’t the best, but hey, it’s a small compromise to live with.

In terms of build quality, you do sometimes get the odd, random “rubbing noise” from the door card, and sometimes the plastic mesh in the roll-over hoops makes an unwanted buzzing noise, but overall, build quality is excellent. These noises seem to be temperature/road surface dependent, and go away of their own accord. I guess being a convertible, its par for the course to expect some noises. Come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve ever been a car that, fixed roof or otherwise, makes absolutely no interior noises.

One other aspect that I still have a love-hate relationship with is the colour of the car’s interior (Sand Beige). Now, I don’t think I would have specced the car from new in this colour scheme, but I do like the fact that it brings some much needed light to what would be a very dark, somewhat claustrophobic interior if it were clothed completely in regulation black upholstery. The one thing that I absolutely can’t stand though is the beige steering wheel. With the beige seats, doors and dash, it’s just too much beige!

The car has grey trim accents and a black centre console/vents, so I think it would look far easier on the eye with a charcoal black/alcantara steering wheel. At least that’s my justification for looking in to re-trimming it!

Along with a new re-trimmed, alcantara steering wheel, I’m looking forward to the weather changing for the better too. As long as it’s dry I’ll be maximizing my time with the roof off and enjoying the exhaust noise spitting it’s wonderful song back at me. The car’s 40000 mile service is looming in April/May, so hopefully I won’t be financially ruined next time I write! Stay tuned.

 

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David Knott